Having had the good fortune to travel all around the world, I am always reminded in ways both obvious and subtle how similar people are from place to place. While we too often choose to focus on our surface differences, most people that have actually experienced different types of people and cultures up close and personal will agree that below the surface, we are basically driven by the same motivations.
That established, I am not willing to go so far as to say we are all the same and that stereotypes are wrong. Because as much as I am diametrically opposed to stereotyping based on size, shape or color, I am forming a hypothesis that seems to grow stronger every day that there is a criteria that can fairly accurately predict how an entire group of people will act: access to text messengers and cell phones during adolescence.
Something very significant happened when I was in school, as AOL’s Instant Messenger eclipsed house parties and frat parties in popularity as the place for college kids to hang out. For the first time, it was possible to get laid without ever having to muster up the courage to talk to a girl. Guy is bored at 2am on a Saturday morning and logs into AOL. Girl from his history class, who lives two dorms over, is equally as bored and chatting with her friends back home. Guy messages girl with the most impersonal of ask outs: “what are you doing?”…to which she replies, “nothing.” “Cool.” “We should, like, watch a movie or something”…and so it goes.
It has only gotten easier from there. Now, kids in the single digits have cell phones. This means something very significant: even though computer-based chat messengers are pretty much extinct, guys today under the age of, say 25 or so, have never once had to speak to the father of the girl they were chasing. I’m not sure about any of you, but I look back on the first few times calling my high school crush and praying like hell she would answer the phone (specifically and intentionally timing the calls at the exact time I thought her father would still be at work)–only to have a deep male voice greet me on the other end–as some of the events that helped me develop into a man. “Hello Mr. (silly readers, you aren’t getting a name out of me!), this is Steve Klimek calling. Is (pretty, tall girl) home…may I speak with her?” As I was saying this, I remember looking in the mirror and seeing the most pained expression on my face, as though the receiver was actually pulling the teeth out of my gums. And if her older brother answered? Even worse, because I knew that he actually could potentially kick my ass if he felt like it.
I know it sounds like I’m making this into a joke, and to some extent I am. But I believe that the technological revolution of chat messengers and cell phones has deprived young people of actually developing the confidence and skill set to speak with purpose–it has allowed them to stay within the confines of their comfort zones and still achieve things (such as getting laid) that previously required at least a slight foray outside of it. It is funny looking back on those awkward middle- and high school phone calls, but I can’t underestimate the impact those 10-second conversations had on my ability to handle personal and professional social situations as an adult, particularly as they required me to venture into unfamiliar situations and surroundings.
I’m not preaching, either. Believe me, if I would have had access to a direct phone number of my crushes (actually, one of my high school girlfriends had her own line, which at the time was like a gift from heaven), and the ability to chat rather than actually have to speak to them with a cracking, stuttering voice, I would have taken full advantage. Unfortunately, I had to go through those awkward conversations the hard way, but in hindsight, I’m glad I did. The same goes for flirting–it’s a lot easier nowadays to make those provocative comments complimenting some physical feature of a girl, fully intended to be a hook into something more, via text message than having to actually look her in the eye and get the words to come out. After all, if she doesn’t reply in 60 seconds or so, you can forever save face and be bailed out by the follow-up “LOL, just playing” text.
I believe that you can see the impact of this all over pop culture. Today’s generation of athletes, or the AAU generation as I call them, often doesn’t seem capable of even doing everyday chores such as grocery shopping by themselves. They can jump through the roof and squat-thrust a million pounds, but they can’t make a doctor’s appointment. This is because as a result of the access to mobile technology they have had since childhood, they have had grown-up leeches lining up to wipe the sweat off their ass since age 9 in hopes of “access” down the road. Michael Jordan is the greatest of them all, and he still had to do some things on his own as a young adult before Nike’s Air Jordan line made him a global phenomenon. It is evident in our celebrities as well–just look at the vastly different behavior of a young Usher 15 years ago as compared to his own personal protege, the obnoxious and bumbling Justin Bieber today. That’s not to say that yesterday’s celebrities didn’t act like jerks at times also, but I think there is a difference between acting like a jerk because a) you can; b) it is fun; or c) it helps your image, rather than doing so simply because you are incapable of handling social situations thrown at you.
One thing I am sure of is that if I ever find myself interviewing people younger than me to work on anything important, one of my criteria will be to make sure that they have, at some point in their lives, actually approached a member of the opposite sex (or same sex if they swing that way, no discriminating here), and spoken (with their voice, not through an electronic messenger) to introduce themselves. Bonus points if they have been horribly rejected. And even better yet if they have had to speak with that love interest’s father on the other end of the phone. A simple criteria, sure, but in my humble opinion, a significant indicator of one’s ability to adapt and adjust to the varied social situations that life outside of the comfort zone will throw at you.